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Helping to understand the decline in U.S. fertility

Demographic historian J. David Hacker’s study of American fertility decline from 1790-2000 may reshape the way we understand that period in the life of the nation.

The total fertility rate -- the number of children a woman has in her lifetime -- fell from seven or eight in 1800 to slightly more than two today, J. David Hacker, associate professor of history, said.

"It's one of the most profound social revolutions of the period," he said. "It has all kinds of ramifications for the social and economic history of the United States, including women's ability to participate in the paid labor force, parental resources available for children's education, the age structure of the population and even the future of the social welfare state."

Hacker joined the Binghamton faculty in 2002. His project is supported by a five-year $667,237 grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

People are late to perceive what's happening in demography, even though it's slow to change and has long-term ramifications, Hacker said. "All countries have experienced or are experiencing a demographic transition from high birth rates and high death rates to low birth rates and low death rates," Hacker said.

"The United States is in some ways an ideal laboratory to study this both because it appears to be quite early in the adoption of conscious family-limitation practices and because of the heterogeneity of the population and its large-scale immigration."

Learn more about J. David Hacker’s fertility study.

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Last Updated: 5/7/09